Most of us are familiar with the three ring circus that has become the Republican attempt to take down reproductive healthcare, but now, in a grand display of “ew, she has cooties”, it has reached a new low. During a debate on the Michigan state House floor over a bill that intends to ban abortion after twenty weeks, as well as put new restrictions on abortion providers, Rep. Lisa Brown, one of the few women representatives allowed to speak (colleague Rep. Barb Byrum was not allowed to speak after she introduced an amendment to the abortion regulations bill banning men from getting a vasectomy unless the sterilization procedure was necessary to save a man’s life, as reported by NPR) was effectively barred from the House after using the word “vagina”.
“And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.'” Brown said, after not only arguing that her own Jewish faith should not impede on major decisions, but perhaps being an expert on the own experience of having dealt with issues of reproductive care. However, apparently the House is staffed by middle-schoolers who have found that unless they are talking about it on their terms, vaginas are disgusting. Rep. Mike Callton, (R-Nashville) told the Detroit News, “‘What she said was offensive, It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.” Jim Stamas (Majority Floor Leader and R-Midland) found that Browns use of the word vagina violated the “decorum” of the house.
So not only was Brown barred from the floor because she used the word vagina, an anatomically and medically correct term and one that is relevant to discussions on reproductive healthcare, but the entire incident has proven that if a word makes legislators so incredibly uncomfortable, then perhaps they should 1. Grow up, as it seems that only republican lawmakers and boys under the age of twelve find the word offensive and 2. Not be legislating policies that will direly affect all those who happen to have a vagina. Not only does the whole thing reek of a grandfatherly type of paternalism, but might as well just have cut out the professional reasoning and stated “ Ew, icky vaginas – this is what you get for having one and trying to take care of it!”
It’s insulting that the people that are making decisions about what millions will be able to do with their body are so squigged out that a woman saying vagina is enough to send them flying into a tizzy. If we can’t even begin to allow a woman – a paid representative who is attempting to testify with her experience – to speak her truth, then how are we ever going to have more difficult conversations? How are we ever going to see anyone who speaks on reproductive healthcare in a way that expands beyond the two-dimensional? How are we ever going to address truths like the fact that not all women have vaginas? Or that some men do have vaginas? Moreover, how is it that white, straight, rich, Christian males (like Bruce Rendon, the man behind House Bill 5711, one of the nations most restrictive abortions pills to pass), seem to be the ones making these types of decisions, when they have no intimate experience with reproductive healthcare or abortion? These men of the Republican party who feel so entitled to make all these decisions have never gone through the endless loops to get the medical care and service that so many desperately need. They have no concept of what it means to be poor and to have to rely on centers like Planned Parenthood, or what it means to have to scramble under a policy that pays no mind to how the most vulnerable have to suffer under it. The only thing men like Rendon are concerned about is restricting reproductive care access in the middle of a recession, not only taking away from the legal protection that Roe v. Wade was set up to provide, but also proving on a large, cultural and political scale that if you dare want an abortion, you are going to pay for it.
“If they are going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot mention it” Brown said in a statement released by her office. “Regardless of their reasoning, this is a violation of my First Amendment rights and directly impedes my ability to serve the people who elected me into office”.
You can watch a vide of Brown’s original statment, and of other women opposint the bill, here:
I’m reminded of Sharon Stone’s words of wisdom from a few years back. Granted she was talking about the culture of Hollywood and being a woman with opinions in show business, but its relevance to the current discourse is stunning in its accuracy: “If you have a vagina and an attitude in this town, then that’s a lethal combination.” I agree with Stone’s original sentiment, and I see this as a battle cry in our effort to call out those who dare legislate personal reproductive decisions and yet cannot handle even naming the body parts they are legislating. We are tired of these bills passing over and over, reminding us that we are not worthy of protection. We are not worthy of respect when we must make decisions. We must sit down, shut up, and deal with the consequences.
Yea. Over my dead vagina.